Friday’s economic news — 2 percent third-quarter growth — probably isn’t the “Hail Mary” so many Democrats across the country were hoping for heading into the final weekend of Campaign ’10. The figure is slightly better than the second quarter, but well short of what’s needed to favorably impact unemployment. “It’s the expected GDP number, which is mostly bad news for the economy,” economist Josh Bivens told The New York Times. “The growth rate is just nowhere near enough to put downward pressure on unemployment.” Consumer demand was relatively weak in the third quarter, experts said, and whatever good was produced by the federal stimulus bill is fading, The Times reports, with city and state governments cutting jobs. Again, not the evidence Democrats wanted as Americans prepare to render judgment on the majority party’s stewardship of the economy the past two years.
Finally, it has become clear: Republican Christine O’Donnell’s candidacy for the open U.S. Senate seat from Delaware was a clever feint — a “demonstration on the flank” as they say in military-speak — drawing fire from other races Democrats might have won, making it easier for the GOP to seriously challenge for Senate control. Think about it. Ms. O’Donnell, a well-meaning, virtuous sort, has been the obsession of the left-wing punditocracy since she upset RINO Mike Castle in Delaware’s GOP primary. Of course, there’s been plenty of 15- and 20-year-old video of her saying goofy things to fuel the foment. Now there’s scurrilous, made-up junk being alleged about O’Donnell’s private life. You’d think Delaware was going to be a nail-biter! But no: O’Donnell is anywhere from 10 to 20 points down in recent polls. Meanwhile, races where Democrats should’ve been competitive — such as Missouri and North Carolina — apparently aren’t. And Dem incumbents like Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, Patty Murray in Washington — even Barbara “Call me senator!” Boxer in California — might be turned out. Was O’Donnell sent out to take one for the team? Maybe not on purpose, but the result might be the same.
How many caught President Obama on “The Daily Show” Wednesday night with Jon Stewart? Reviews Thursday are somewhat mixed but then, how much heavy lifting are you really going to do on a comedy show, right? One exchange, perhaps, was symptomatic. Asked by Stewart about his administration’s performance on the economy, Obama claimed credit for stabilizing the financial system, the stock market and the overall economy — all at less than half the cost (in terms of U.S. gross domestic product) of fixing the S&L crisis in the 1980s, which by comparison was smaller and more localized than the recent recession. “I’d say we’ll take that,” the president said confidently.
He should’ve stopped while he was ahead. In the next breath, trying to credit his former economics adviser, Obama teed up a line no professional funny man could miss if he tried: “Larry Summers did a heckuva job …” As the studio audience started cracking up, Stewart pounced, deadpanning: “You don’t wanna use that phrase, dude!” Obama tried to yuk it off as an intended pun, but inadvertently comparing his performance on the economy to President Bush’s on Hurricane Katrina — using the same word to reference an ineffective underling — surely wasn’t the objective in what was supposed to be a friendly sit-down with Stewart.
Juan Williams’ firing by NPR this week looks like it’ll be more than the typical, three-day Washington story. NPR terminated Williams as a “news analyst” after his remarks on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” — basically, that seeing people dressed in Muslim garb during air travel caused him momentary anxiety and fear, given the realities of 9-11. Williams and millions of Americans. That was too much honesty for the higher-ups at NPR, who bravely cashiered Williams, a 10-year veteran, over the phone. There’s been lots of speculation that NPR long has wanted to be rid of Williams because he’s also a regular contributor on Fox, and that there was pressure from NPR’s liberal-leaning contributors to give him the axe.
Some of the back-and-forth over Williams is interesting, some is silly — like The (London) Guardian’s Michael Tomasky, who blogs that Williams basically had it coming. No self-respecting liberal would ever appear on Fox, Tomasky writes. “Fox News wants liberalism to perish from the face of the earth,” Tomasky writes. “Going on their air on a regular basis and lending your name and reputation to their ideological razzle-dazzle is like agreeing to be the regular kulak guest columnist at Pravda in 1929. For ‘balance’.” Here’s the silly part: Several paragraphs earlier in the same post, Tomasky writes he doesn’t watch Fox. So, you might ask, how would Tomasky know anything about Fox’s “balance” or Williams’ role as a contributor? Good question.
OK, so here’s a follow-up question to reports Virginia Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, left a voice message on the office phone of Anita Hill, urging Hill to apologize for accusing the justice of sexual harassment during his 1991 Senate confirmation hearing: Did Mrs. Thomas staff that one by Justice Thomas?
The story almost certainly will generate a buzz for at least a few days, mostly because it’s just so bizarre — the kind of publicity the quite-private justice could do without. He’s been on the court nearly 20 years and probably wishes the Anita Hill controversy had stayed in the rear-view mirror. So, what possessed his wife to call Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University in Boston, and assert that Hill should “consider an apology” and a “full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband”? Mrs. Thomas’ message (which she confirms leaving) said Hill should prayerfully consider apologizing and concluded with a sunny, “OK, have a nice day.”
Hill, born in Oklahoma and a former University of Oklahoma law professor, thought the message was a prank at first and then turned the recording over to campus police. She said she has nothing to apologize for and said that while Mrs. Thomas claims she meant no offense, she considers the call offensive and accusatory. Lots of people probably figured they’d heard the last of the Hill-Thomas controversy. Obviously not.
Remember the little band of Russian “sleeper” agents arrested on the East Coast and deported to the motherland in July? The New York Times reports they received top government honors from Soviet — er — Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on Monday. The story of the deep-cover spies, their use of fake names and invisible ink, recalled the Cold War era while evoking images of Maxwell Smart’s running battle with KAOS. One, Anna Chapman, was fond of Bond girl cocktail dresses and posted saucy photos on Facebook when she wasn’t passing encrypted messages to Russian officials from a Manhattan bookstore. Back home, Chapman and the others were regaled as heroes at a Kremlin ceremony. From the ashes of defeat …
Kudos to Rand Paul, the Republican running for U.S. Senate in Kentucky. When his debate with Democrat Jack Conway ended Sunday night, Paul exited stage left without shaking Conway’s hand. That, after a bitter debate low-lighted by an exchange over a Conway campaign ad claiming Paul, as a student at Baylor University, belonged to a secret society that mocked Christianity and that one time Paul and another student bound and blindfolded a woman and tried to make her bow down to their god, “Aqua Buddha.”
Paul lit into Conway. “You know how we tell when you’re lying?” Paul asked, referring to Conway. “When your lips are moving. You’re accusing me of crimes. … You’re going to stand there and accuse me of a crime from 30 years ago from some anonymous source? How ridiculous are you? You embarrass this race,” he said. “Run a race like a man … instead of calling me names.”
Well now. The point isn’t Conway’s claim, Paul’s alleged collegiate exuberance or the relevance to Kentucky. It’s Paul’s refusal have a bunch of gunk dumped all over him and then pretend to like the smell. Politicians do it all the time: call each other every imaginable name, dig up muck (or stuff that’s muck-like) and spew it all around — and then shake hands. Really? Say this for Rand Paul: He was angry, but it was real.
You see it all the time in politics: Whenever things aren’t going well for a president or a party, they blame poor communications. “Voters didn’t understand our message,” is the familiar refrain. President Obama is playing that tune right now. In a New York Times Magazine piece due out Sunday, Obama reportedly says White House inattention to message and the public’s perceptions is the reason his administration has struggled in recent months. No surprise. Obama has to point to the message, PR and the voters themselves. Otherwise, the president would have to blame his policies. And politicians don’t do that.
But guess what: It is the policy. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released this week showed 55 percent of those surveyed don’t agree with Obama on the issues, compared to 42 percent who agree. Perhaps to underscore the point, the same poll showed 59 percent say Obama has the personality and leadership skills a president needs. People like Obama; it’s his policies they can’t stomach. That’s not a problem with message or with the communications staff. It’s a policy problem.
Ten years ago today crew members aboard the USS Cole were getting ready for lunch in the destroyer’s galley when a small boat packed with high explosives rammed the ship as it refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen sailors died, 39 more were injured and the stricken Cole, with a 40-by-40-foot hole in her port side, was saved only through the heroism of surviving crew members. Military blogger Susan Katz Keating has a tribute video by the Navy on her site, as well as a link to reflections by the Cole’s commander at the time, Commander Kirk Lippold. The suicide attack on the Cole wasn’t al-Qaida’s first on a still-slumbering United States, but it was one of the boldest — a harbinger of an even bolder, more deadly assault less than a year later. Lest we forget.
Democrats running for governor and U.S. Senate in California might get a boost from a ballot initiative that would make possessing and growing marijuana legal. Politico reports experts believe Proposition 19 will drive younger-voter turnout, which should help Barbara Boxer, running for Senate re-election, and Jerry Brown, running for governor. The state’s Democratic Party is neutral on the “Just Say Now” measure, and Brown, Boxer and fellow U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein oppose it. Still, analysts believe it will help Brown and Boxer because recent polling shows the under-40 demographic supports pot legalization 59 percent to 33 percent. Of course, that assumes pot enthusiasts actually get to the polls to vote.